The crater is partially buried and located on the side of the moon that faces Earth, which means that for a long time one of the largest impact craters on the lunar surface has been hiding in plain sight. Now the 124-mile-wide crater has been brought to our attention by scientists working with data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twin satellites, writes Ian O’Neill for Discovery.
GRAIL mission uncovers hidden crater
“This is one of the biggest craters on the moon, but no one knew it was there,” said lead researcher Jay Melosh of Perdue University, who is also a member of the GRAIL science team. “Craters are named after explorers or scientists, and Amelia Earhart had not yet received this honor. She attempted a flight around the world, and we thought she deserved to make it all the way to the moon for inspiring so many future explorers and astronauts.”
The GRAIL mission orbited the moon for most of 2012, creating a gravitational map which completely changed our understanding of lunar geology. The satellites constructed a complex gravitational map of the moon, meaning that scientists could look deep beneath its surface, and eventually leading to the discovery of the hidden crater rim.
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Future moon missions could be helped by further study
“The feature turned out to be the rim of an ancient crater, but it was so big we did not even recognize it as that at first,” said Rohan Sood, graduate student in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “We were zoomed in on one little piece of it. We first tried to model it as a small crater, but we had to go bigger and bigger and bigger to match what the data was telling us.”
Scientists hope to use a similar technique to detect smaller structures on the surface of the moon, for example caves which could be used to provide shelter for future manned moon missions.
Earhart’s name should now live on, long after her disappearance as she attempted a round-the-world flight in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10 aircraft. The Purdue team plan to submit their name for the crater to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is responsible for naming celestial bodies.